It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.
I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—
In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
fused in one sound
that mounts and mounts and then
is split into the old selves,
the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.
How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?
I was immediately drawn to this poem, mostly probably because the language is very easy to grasp, and it feels as if someone is telling you a story as a friend. I thought it was full of interesting images, ones that invited both sight, smell and sound which is good for a short poem. The title and the image that a “scent of mock orange/drifts through the window” was interesting to me. At first I assumed that the smell was from the flowers mentioned in the first stanza, but then it struck me odd that flowers would smell orangey. The speaker is a woman unhappy with the smell, the flowers, love, and the world at large. I thought it was interesting how the speaker started off with smaller problems, such as her garden flowers, then her personal life, and then her problems with such a fickle and unpredictable world she has to deal with. She uses the odor to say she does not know how she can deal with such a messed up world. The odor colors the world in a negative light, and she doesn’t know how to deal with the world or how to make sense of it. The speaker really speaks in details, which I think enhances the poem and its message, which is a fairly universal one that people can relate to on many different levels. The third stanza is the most interesting one, as the speaker says that “we were made fools of”, to mean that people are fools who are stuck on earth, or that the world is making fools of us because we’re placed here without any real knowledge of why or what the purpose of life is. The speaker is realizing this and is working out problems in her head. The speaker makes up her mind that she is not content with what she sees, but she doesn’t say what she’ll do about her newfound revelation. Sometimes I feel like the speaker, and that’s also probably why this poem interested me. Also I was just so intrigued by the title and how it is used in the poem. It’s a very strange way of describing a smell. The word “mock” kind of goes along with the idea of the world being this fake thing that people have to deal with for some reason. Also, the speaker seems to think that the world is making a mockery of her and the life she tries to lead.
Poetry Review: Louise Gluck, Mock Orange
Today we are going to read “Mock Orange” and to start with, the mock orange is a shrub that blooms wildly and bears an inedible fruit that looks like an orange but is inedible–it has a vaguely chemical flavor from what I’ve heard.
“It is not the moon, I tell you./It is these flowers/lighting the yard.” Louise Gluck starts this poem claiming the flowers and not the moon light up the yard. The flowers seem a little unnatural even here, the idea that they would light up like some sort of phosphorescent oddity.
“I hate them./I hate them as I hate sex,/the man’s mouth/sealing my mouth , the man’s/paralyzing body–” So we move from a plant that has inedible fruit to her descriptions of sex, which seam predatory like an insect that stings its mate in the act. Also it’s interesting that she hates flowers (which are big symbols of reproduction) as she hates the idea of sex as well.
“and the cry that always escapes,/the low, humiliating/premise of union–” To the speaker sex is an excuse to create shame while pretending to bond. One reason she hates sex is a cry escapes–as if she does not want it to be heard. It makes her lose a sense of control.
“In my mind tonight/I hear the question and pursuing answer/fused in one sound/that mounts and mounts, and then/is split into the old selves/the tired antagonisms.” So they do become one, but when they grow apart they do not get along, the speaker and her partner–going back into antagonism. That sex is just an illusion. (Again the symbol of the inedible fruit and hateful flowers really underline this.)
“Do you see?/We were made fools of.” Meaning the sex doesn’t solve anything, it creates an illusion of bonding as they go back to their fighting corners after the act.
“And the scent of mock orange/drifts through the window.” She sees the world as taunting her, she has just realized that there is no such thing as true bonding, there’s just distraction.
“How can I rest?/How can I be content/when there is still/that odor in the world?” The odor, a promise of fruit when there is none, is like her physical attraction. nothing will come from this in the end. It’s as if she’s become disillusioned and can’t relax until the promise of union goes away, always tantalizingly out of reach.